Black Adam review: The hierarchy of the DCEU has hit rock bottom

Dwayne Johnson as Black AdamWarner Bros.

Black Adam has long been billed as a hierarchy change for the DCEU, yet Dwayne Johnson’s attempts to revitalize the already troubled cinematic universe are painfully dated.

The DCEU just can’t get a break. Since the arrival of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Warner Brothers have struggled to make its mark within superhero cinema. Though Snyder’s estranged trilogy was cannon fodder for debate – there’s no denying that a singular, comprehensive vision was behind it.

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Unfortunately, the same can’t be said regarding Jaume Collet-Serra’s Black Adam. In development for over 15 years, Dwayne Johnson’s debut as the famed DC anti-hero is more of a whimper, than a spark. So where did it all go wrong? Is there hope for the DCEU as we know it? It’s hard to say.

Black Adam: Dated theatrics won’t electrify audiences

“How long are we going to keep doing this?” Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman remarks. It’s a notion that not only reverberated around the IMAX theater, but throughout my head as I sunk lower into my seat.

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Set within the oppressed country of Kahndaq, the myth of the grand ‘Champion’ Teth-Adam breathes hope around the nation. 5,000 years ago, heinous king Anh-Kot forced Kahndaq’s people to mine for a magical mineral known as Eternium.

When it is forged into a mystical crown, a young boy leads an uprising to set his nation free. Seeing his efforts as a noble action, the boy is bestowed the powers of Shazam, before a deadly encounter that would see him entombed for thousands of years.

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It’s the type of comic book preamble that has the potential to work if it can be packaged with a committed direction. Johnson’s PR mastery tells another story, one that is certainly more compelling that this lackluster descent into mediocrity.

Another step back for the DCEU’s future

He’s brutal. He’s darker. He doesn’t take any prisoners. These are the kind of descriptors that Dwayne Johnson has deployed in anticipation of Black Adam’s release. But all that talk needs to be backed up by action. Somehow, Collet-Serra has mistaken endless punches for the essential movie ingredient: A plot. Those looking to see Black Adam punch, pummel, and scowl at anything and anyone in his path will get their money’s worth. Although it would probably be better spent on an Uber home, to rectify the decision of arriving at the cinema.

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Dwayne Johnson as Black AdamWarner Bros.
Black Adam’s action shows flashes of promise but lacks a reason to care.

Bafflingly, despite all of Warner Brothers’ attempts to expunge Snyder’s mark on the DCEU – there sure are a lot of his trappings laced within Black Adam. Lawrence Sher and Collet-Serra’s aesthetic collaboration borrows Snyder’s high contrast trademarks, though it lacks any of its enthralling nature to sell Johnson’s power. Elsewhere, the movie introduces the Justice Society of America for a big-screen debut. Comic book purists will get a kick out of seeing a mostly faithful lineup together. Their performances will turn that kick into a swift gut punch.

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Noah Centineo seems to be unaware of the movie he is in. Quintessa Swindells’s Cyclone is a thankless role – leaving her with the most uninspired portrayal of all. Not all hope is lost, however. Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman brings glimpses of excitement against Johnson’s one-dimensional Teth-Adam. Undoubtedly, the real star of the movie is Pierce Brosnan, who is a pure delight as Doctor Fate. It’s clear that Brosnan understood the assignment here, as he enhances generic and perfunctory exposition with gusto.

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What’s even more surprising is Lorne Balfe’s disappointing score. Known for his masterful work with Hans Zimmer, Black Adam’s score fails to stir up anything noteworthy.

What lies ahead after Black Adam?

Even though Black Adam sports a breakneck pace, there’s just no real reason to care about its compulsion for explosions. Virtually every character will gratingly repeat how Black Adam is supposed to be a hero, with Johnson consistently refuting the idea. “Heroes don’t kill people,” Hawkman declares. And yet, when Black Adam does unveil his rip-roaring violence: Does it matter?

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an image of pierce brosnan as doctor fate in black adamWarner Brothers
Pierce Brosnan shines as original JSA member Doctor Fate.

The answer is a definitive no. And that’s before the abysmal CGI villain of the week turns up. Once Black Adam moves past its futile effort to lay its foundations, there isn’t a chance to delve into anyone’s motivations. Pair this with an unfathomably bad child sidekick as another catalyst for the movie’s decay. It doesn’t get more naughties than a skateboarding kid with a penchant for quips. Mentions of the wider DCEU through this character are well-intentioned, but are mostly uneventful.

These mentions of the universe’s farthest corners might have held weight six years ago when the DCEU was laying down its roadmap. Now, after several misfires, director and tax cuts, it’s hard to muster up any confidence for Johnson’s ambitious plans.

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Black Adam review score: 2/10

Dwayne Johnson’s chance to revitalize the DCEU boils down to a missed opportunity. Constrained by dated, bland theatrics and underwhelming plotting, the hierarchy of my willpower with the DCEU continues to embark on a downward spiral.

Black Adam is in theaters from October 21, 2022.

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